Having risen to global stardom as a teenager, Niall Horan is in a better position than most to offer advice and support to ambitious youngsters looking to make it to the top.
What may surprise you is that it’s the next generation of golf hopefuls who are the ones receiving that knowledge and guidance from the former One Direction star.
Horan – a huge golf fan who regularly enjoys a round with both Rory McIlroy and Justin Rose – along with his management team, formed Modest! Golf just over 18 months ago, and will next year have two of their young stars on the European Tour. But just what was it that attracted the singing sensation to form a golf management company?
“I’ve got a big passion for golf and so do the other directors. We all have a major passion for the sport and felt like we wanted to get into it,” Horan explained to Sport360˚.
“I obviously spend a lot of time going to tournaments and seeing young guys at tournaments and I like watching people do well, so hopefully we’ll see these young guys come through the ranks and then taking on the European Tour.
“Eighteen months in we’ve got two guys who have just got their cards and will be spending next season on the European Tour, so it’s now about them keeping their heads and working hard to see if they can get on the money list next year.”
His music industry experience is, in many ways, easily transferable to the golf world. While Horan was selling out shows across the globe with One Direction as a teenager, his management team were on hand to ensure performing to the best of his ability was his sole focus.
That’s very much what the 24-year-old and the Modest! Golf team are now doing with the young golf stars who they have on their books, as they bid to provide them with all the support they need to ensure they make it to the top of their profession.
“I was hearing so many stories before I started the company from guys who felt like they weren’t managed and had to worry about other things apart from hitting golf balls, which shouldn’t be the case,” Horan added.
“I can’t teach them how to hit a five iron, but I can do everything else for them. They shouldn’t have to worry about anything else apart from getting out on the course, shooting low and winning tournaments.
“It’s majorly important and I guess a lot of the guys we’re signing are of a similar age to me. I’ve been in what you would say the business for a while and I kind of know how things work. I feel I’ve got that good moral support alongside them.”
Of those young golfers currently on the Modest! Golf books, it’s the two who have recently secured their 2018 European Tour cards that Horan is backing to make the biggest impact in the new year.
“Connor Syme, our latest signing, has been making a bit of a run and has just recently got his card. Christiaan Bezuidenhout, a South African guy, has had a great season and got his card as well, so I think the two boys on the European Tour will be looking to enjoy a good first season,” said Horan.
“Then we’ve got Jack Singh-Brar, who only just missed out on getting his card by a couple of shots, so he’ll be looking to do a bit of damage next season.” While Niall focuses on helping those youngsters make a positive start to 2018, the Irishman will also have one eye on the comeback of golf legend Tiger Woods.
“I’m obviously delighted (he’s back). He’s the reason even lads like Rory and maybe those a touch older picked up a golf club in the first place,” Horan said.
“Just generally in sport he has been unbelievable. “He changed the way golf was played. He was probably one of the first golfers to ever go into a gym or really look at it from a sport science point of view. He just changed the way everyone looked at golf.
“I’m delighted to see him back. He looks like he is healthy and that swing looks more like it did about 10 years ago, so it’s nice to see him being free, loose and healthy.
“It looks like he can definitely compete. At the Hero Challenge he looked pretty fit and looked like he could play. Hopefully he can kick on into next season and give us all what we want.”
Horan was one of those who got into golf because of Woods’ exploits, and the singer is regularly out on the course with his close friend McIlroy. The two will be teaming up at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic ProAm tomorrow and Horan is very much looking forward to the experience.
“I’ve been doing alright this year, but not playing as much as I would like to. I’m going to try and get a few rounds in before I head anywhere near a ProAm with one of the best golfers on the planet,” admitted Horan.
“Luckily, when you’re playing with professionals like that, because you’re friends with them, it just seems like you’re playing with a friend who is really, really good at golf. It’s always the people who aren’t so good who are most critical.
“When I first played with Rory and my other close friend Justin Rose, I was obviously extremely nervous, but then after a couple of rounds you realise you’re just playing with a couple of friends who happen to be very good.
“You forget the fact you’re playing with that person just because you’re friends with them. It can be very daunting. I don’t think I’d beat them unless they gave me about 12 shots.”
Horan and McIlroy will also be taking part in the Omega Constellation Clinic this Friday, with all fans who purchase tickets for any day of the Omega Dubai Desert Classic entered into a prize draw.
The winner will also receive a set of Taylor Made golf clubs. For more information, head to www. omegadubaidesertclassic.com.
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The tournament may be nine months away but European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn is brimming with excitement over the talent at his disposal.
Dane Bjorn will lead Europe as they look to regain a title they dropped two years ago at Hazeltine – a first victory for the United States since 2008.
Europe have dominated the competition in recent years – winning eight of the last 11 trophies stretching back 22 years, while they’ve claimed 11 of 19 titles since they first competed as Europe back in 1979.
Despite enjoying the upper hand over the past four decades, much of the talk leading up to this year’s tournament has been of an American resurgence, led by the new generation of world number one Dustin Johnson and Jordan Spieth, who at 24, has already won three majors, including three of the last 12.
But with a new wave of European talent rising to the surface in the last two years, Bjorn is excited about Europe’s prospects at Le Golf National in Paris.
“When you wake up on Monday morning and Sergio (Garcia) has won in Singapore and Tommy (Fleetwood) has won in Abu Dhabi and Jon (Rahm) has won on the PGA Tour, you can’t help but thinking European golf is in very good hands right now,” said Bjorn, 46.
“There are some great players. But then you look at what 12 you’ve got to be up against and American golf is also in great hands at the moment. That’s what’s ahead.
“I saw Sergio yesterday, I had a chat with Rory this morning, and then your mind starts going back into Ryder Cup stuff. I feel like the last couple weeks have been a really, really good experience from a captain’s side but it’s also been a great experience to see what the players are.
“There’s a lot of happiness around. There tends to be a lot more happiness around in January. They seem to be very happy and very keen and very motivated. That’s all I can ask for.”
Whoever Bjorn leads into battle in France, it is likely to be a mix of rising youth, in-form and experienced talent. Fleetwood, who retained his Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship title last weekend, is coming off a stunning year, while Spain’s Rahm, 23, also enjoyed a stellar rookie season on the European Tour.
Add the likes of Tyrrell Hatton, Matthew Fitzpatrick, Thomas Pieters and Alexander Levy to more established stars like McIlroy, Garcia, Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson, and you can see why Bjorn is excited.
As a warm-up for the Ryder Cup, he captained Europe to a morale-boosting 14-10 win over Asia in the EurAsia Cup earlier this month, in Malaysia, where a host of players put their hats in the ring for selection later this year.
“That’s a sign that there’s strength. I thought that’s something I’ll look back at and see as a good sign of where we are with European golf,” added Bjorn, who played on three Ryder Cup-winning teams 17 years apart – in 1997, 2002 and 2014.
“They could also be there, most likely it won’t be those 12 but it will be a couple of others that will have a few words to say about that.
“[Last week], you have 10 guys finishing in the top-20 out of those 11 that played [in the EurAsia Cup], and Rafa [Cabrera-Bello] finished, I don’t know, 40th or something, and Alex [Noren] wasn’t there.
“But that’s a strong performance. They used the EurAsia Cup well. They used the confidence they built from the week. It just gives me a lot of belief that we are in a good place.
“Now, where that will leave us in eight, nine months’ time, you know as well as I do that the golfing world moves and it goes like a yo-yo; people go up-and-down, and where it leaves us at, we’ll see.
“But where we are right now, I feel like there’s a lot of good things to build on for a lot of these players.”
And even if they didn’t necessarily produce the results to back it up in Shah Alam against Arjan Atwal’s Asia, such as Frenchman Levy, his players still showed their captain something.
Bjorn added: “The obvious ones we keep talking about, but then you look at how guys like Ross [Fisher, second in Abu Dhabi] has played; that he hasn’t won a golf tournament the last four or five years is a bit strange with the golf that he’s played.
“Tyrrell is playing well and Alex Levy stood up really well. He had a tough start to the EurAsia Cup, and you see his head was down about that, and then he had a good experience in the singles and he brought good play into last week [finished seventh in Abu Dhabi].
“You just see these players grow with what’s ahead of them and they are desperate to be there.
“The good thing about them is they go out on the golf course and do the job. They don’t just talk about being there. They go out and play good golf. It will be a difficult team to make. It really will be because you have to play some really good stuff from now on to make that team.”
Neighbours Paul Casey and Martin Kaymer enjoy a healthy rivalry, with Casey admitting he would love to get a third Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship title – if only to shut three-time winner Kaymer up.
Casey and Kaymer held a duopoly over the famous falcon trophy during the early years of the tournament – the duo were the only winners between 2007-2011.
Englishman Casey won in 2007 and 2009, with German Kaymer claiming his maiden triumph in 2008, before adding back to back titles in 2010 and 2011.
And even though the pair hail from different countries, both have houses in Scottsdale, Arizona. And Casey admits Kaymer won’t let him forget he holds the Abu Dhabi advantage at 3-2.
“I know this course well. I think that’s the thing. I know how to get around it. I know where I struggle around this golf course. I know where I can capitalise with the strengths of my game,” said Casey, 40, when asked about the advantages of playing a course you’ve been successful on previously, following his stunning 65 on Friday which yielded a round of -7 under to move him into a share of sixth.
— Nick Dougherty (@NickDougherty5) January 19, 2018
“I’ve got a good fan base here, there’s lots of positives. Every hole it seems like I’ve got good memories of, so it really is drawing from some of those past experiences.”
Casey, marking his return not only to Abu Dhabi but the European Tour after three years away playing exclusively on the PGA Tour, added: “But I think the biggest motivation which you did mention, is the fact that Kaymer has got three and I’ve only got two.
“The German, I see him obviously in Arizona because he spends a lot of time out there, and he doesn’t let me forget it. So I would love to equal that record this week.”
Kaymer has two majors to his name but has struggled in recent seasons and slipped down the rankings to number 75 in the world.
But he spent a lot of time over the festive period alone in America practicing in order to get his game and mind sharp for what he hopes will be a rejuvenated 2018.
And like world number 14 Casey, he feels memories of success on a course can really give players an advantage.
Iron to inches 📏
— The European Tour (@EuropeanTour) January 19, 2018
“It’s always nice when you come back to a golf course where you have done well, but also it’s the very first tournament of the year, so it always gave me good motivation,” said the 33-year- old, who posted a -4 under par 68 round two to move onto -7 under overall, two shots behind his Scottsdale neighbour Casey, and five shots off the lead.
“I remember Paul when he won here in 2009, I won in 2008 and 2010, and he won in I think 2007 and 2009.
“So we had five years of victories. For both of us, we always drove it very well on the course and, once you do that, you always have a good chance to do well here. I think it was really the key for me the last few years.”